Caroline Rush, H.H Princess Noura Bint Faisal Al Saud, Ms Layla Issa Abuzaid and Jacob Abrian

LONDON — The Arab Fashion Council is starting to lay the foundations for the development of a sustainable infrastructure across the Arab world, with a strategic partnership with the British Fashion Council and the debut of the first Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh.

The nonprofit organization, which represents 22 countries across the Arab world and has recently set up a regional office in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is aiming to use the event as a platform to support local talent, as well as international names looking to enter the Arab market.

“The history and trajectory of the BFC goes hand in hand with what we are trying to achieve: nurturing young talent and adopting an international vision,” said Princess Noura Bint Faisal Al Saud, the organization’s honorary president.

In turn, the AFC will work toward providing opportunities for London-based designers to tap into the Arab market.

Jacob Abrian, the founder and chief executive officer of the AFC, pointed to the fact that their efforts are aligned with the government’s broader vision to diversify the economy of Saudi Arabia and create opportunities for its increasingly young generation — 70 percent of the population being under 30. “Most Arab countries are looking to diversify; Abu Dhabi, for example, announced that they will produce their last oil barrel by 2050. The vision, though, is to establish Saudi as the global powerhouse of the region,” added Abrian, highlighting that the biggest challenge to overcome is creating an infrastructure with viable sourcing, manufacturing and retail sectors to allow young designers to operate their businesses in the Arab market.

The inaugural Arab Fashion Week, set to take place March 28 to 31, will map out the AFC’s vision of how the region’s industry will operate — with a focus on high-end luxury labels and consumer-facing events to appeal to the new generation of social media-savvy luxury consumers.

The AFC is looking to recruit brand partners that focus on intricately crafted collections within the top luxury tier, dubbed ready couture. “We are addressing the new generation of haute couture clients. Paris used to be the center of couture, where all designers would want to establish themselves, but social media is changing this. Now the same princess that used to spend $1 million for a single haute couture dress has to attend two or three events every week. Given the popularity of Snapchat in Saudi, she cannot appear in the same dress twice and her budget becomes divided. The AFC is recognizing these changes [fueled by] social media and defining this new concept of ready couture,” said Abrian, saying the AFC has bought the rights to the term “ready couture” and is holding a series of seminars, with the guidance of BFC ceo Caroline Rush, to create a set of standards that will define the category.

To answer to younger consumers’ demands for instant gratification and see-now-buy-now collections, trunk shows will also be hosted in partnership with Harvey Nichols Riyadh, where high-net-worth clients will be able to meet the designers, place orders, as well as explore investment opportunities for international labels looking to establish themselves in the Arab world.

Ensuring that the event is respectful of the country’s culture is another priority, hence why it will be open to women only. The AFC is also establishing additional ground rules for participants, most notably the compulsory use of models aged above 18.

Layla Issa Abuzaid, the AFC’s country director for Saudi Arabia, added that the goal of launching a fashion week in Ryiadh is to act as a springboard for growth in other underdeveloped industries and become a gateway into the country, which has so far been seen as a “black box” by outsiders.

“The first Arab Fashion Week will act as a catalyst through which the fashion sector will lead other economic sectors such as tourism, hospitality, travel and trade,” she said. “Our retail sector is among the fastest-growing in the world and we aim to drive significant growth on the encouraging figures Saudi Arabia has achieved so far in this context.”

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